Ouidah and Cotonou

Cotonou Travel Blog

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May 11, 2010
Hotel: Hotel Chant d'Oiseau, Cotonou, Benin

Today we were going to do some sightseeing around Lome before heading over to Benin.. Togo is kind of low on sights to see. We walked down to the beach, which seemed quite nice with palm trees and lots of sand, but not good for swimming due to strong currents and the fact that it's used as a public toilet. We could definitely tell the difference between Togo and Ghana.. the buildings were run down, the cars were in worse shape, just a sense of neglect. Togo used to be quite a popular tourist destination back in the 70's before there were political problems in the 80's/90s, we noticed there were several old hotels that had seen better days. As we were walking down the beach we passed a stark naked old woman just walking down the street! We walked into the market area, saw a few churches, then caught a taxi out to the Marche des Feticheurs (Fetish Market). Togo and Benin are the original homeland of voodoo, a large percentage of the population still practices voudoun and animistic beliefs. The fetish market is their 'pharmacy' where they can buy traditional ingredients, eye of newt, toe of frog and the like. It's also somewhat a tourist attraction, we had to pay quite a bit for a guide and permission to take photographs. It's all quite grisly and smelly and if you're a member of PETA you might want to avoid.. the market consists of tables with rows of animal parts, heads of hyena and monkeys, crocodile and even a gorilla foot. There was an altar where the juju priests make burnt offerings of animals. After the tour of the market, we were taken inside to the fetish altar where the priest sat us down, then gave us all different articles, a tree nut, stick, etc. These are 'gifts' but come with a price, the priest rolls a couple of cowrie shells then asks the fetishes how much of a donation the objects require.. all a bit of mumbo jumbo here. The 'fetish spirits' answer that the dick stick (natual viagra apparently) costs the equivalent of $30. We politely decline and head back to our hotel.

We decide to head onwards towards Benin; planning on stopping in Ouidah along the way. At the shared taxi station, asking how (in French) much a private taxi would cost to Ouidah.. they answer (in English) 10-2. We think 10200 CFA ($20), we agree after repeating 'dix-mille deux cent' and get in but then someone says no that's 20,000 CFA. (We run into this odd method of counting several times). I know my French is bad but I know what vingt mille is, it's definitely not dix mille deux cent. We argue a bit more and get it down to 15,000 but only if we take another passenger. Ok.. so $10 each to go 75 miles is fine.

We set off just after 11AM, arriving at the border around 12:15 (Togo is barely 30 miles wide at the coast!). Benin is also an hour ahead of Togo, so by the time we finish the borders it is past 2:00PM. We were worried about our bags, they were in the taxi and it's always disconcerting when they drive off and you're not sure where they have gone. So far though all the border guards have been very friendly and haven't had any problems. After another hour or so drive we arrive in Ouidah. Ouidah was infamous as a Portuguese slave trading port; the Portuguese controlled the town during the French occupation (Dahomey colony) and even until after independence. We hired a taxi to take us down the 4km hot and dusty Route des Esclaves to the Tree of Forgetfulness and Door of No Return, where the slaves were loaded onto ships bound for Brazil. All very sobering.. In 2000 nearby the UN erected a Door of Return where the descendants of slaves can ceremoniously return to their motherland.

In Ouidah we also visited the old Portuguese fort .. this was burned by the Portuguese as they retreated in 1961, but has been restored as a museum documenting the slave trade. The guides only spoke French though so we mainly just wandered the grounds. We then asked if our taxi driver could take us all the way to Cotonou, another 25 miles. We arrived late in the afternoon, trying to find a hotel. There weren't many cheapies listed, we decided to try the Chant d'Oiseau (Birdsong), a Catholic run hotel near the west of town. The book mentioned it as ugly, and it sure was.. just a bare concrete facade. However the rooms inside were nice, with aircon and mosquito nets.. the downside was the climb up 3 flights of stairs. We headed out for dinner at a local pizza place before fruitlessly searching for a nearby ATM. It was an early night tonight as we planned to get up at 6AM to catch a bus to our next destination, Abomey.
nathanphil says:
Brings back memories...
Posted on: Jun 04, 2010
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Cotonou
photo by: mike1104